I didn’t get a PlayStation 3 for a long time; it was years after it launched. By the time I got one, the PS3 Slim was a thing. The most vivid memory I have is how blown away I was by the whole PlayStation ecosystem. I was a Nintendo-first kind of person, and seeing the PlayStation Portable and PS3 working together the way they did, compared to the Wii and DS, blew me away. The similar aesthetic, the matching online storefronts, even the connectivity between the two platforms looked great and felt organic. Things were a bit shaky when the Vita launched, but more or less smoothed out over time. Then the Vita sort of failed, the PS4 launched, and everything fell apart.
You may be wondering what the hell I’m talking about, considering the Sony and PlayStation 4 brand only exploded almost overnight. The PS4 has sold like few systems have before, and Sony is doing so well it and other developers/publishers are taking risks left and right. We’re getting crazy, lower-tier Japanese games again, all kinds of indie support, and more and more new features all the time. But it doesn’t feel the same. It doesn’t feel, despite events like PlayStation Experience and all that jazz, like I’m participating in a cool little ecosystem anymore. PS4 is just another platform that mimics PCs, and it just happens to have the most exclusive software.
You need to look no further than the native software to see what I’m talking about. In the PS3 and PSP era, things had consistent names and labels and worked together when they could. You had things like Minis, and PSOne classics. Some games, like the PSOne Classics, could run on both systems. If they couldn’t, you could still use the PS3 to download and transfer games over. This function was mangled when it came to the Vita, and PSOne Classic support was a hot mess. Not as many games were compatible and transferring games was convoluted and required extra software. To make up for it a bit, Sony introduced PS2 Classics, which were only playable on PS3, but fit the conventions and ecosystem.
With the PS4, everything flew out the window. It was clearly designed to work with the Vita more, but Sony largely abandoned the platform after some lackluster sales and development difficulties. Remote Play was a wash, requiring excellent Wi-Fi, and often devs didn’t bother to remap the controls. (Games that did this were dope, though). Software transfer vanished into thin air, and you can’t even browse the same content the same way anymore. PSOne classics seemingly don’t exist anymore, and a new brand of PS2 ports has emerged. Sure, they’re in high resolution and have trophy support, but they don’t feel special anymore. I mean, look, Sony tried to get the PlayStation Now streaming service going for PS3 games, but just recently Square Enix announced a PS4 port of Star Ocean 3. It’s just an indistinct piece of PS4 software now.
The brand synergy is gone, replaced with a Steam-like dumping ground for whatever individual devs and publishers come up with. There’s no consistency, no ecosystem that ties everything together to keep it organized and curated. Sure, you can make your own folders now, but even that was a post-launch feature and doesn’t fix how nasty the Library is. And seriously, again, where the hell are my PSOne games?
I love the PS4 from a tech standpoint. It’s a powerful machine, and the software library is insane. But thank goodness for the fast loading times. Thank goodness I don’t have to spend any time on the system itself. Compared to the PS3 and PSP, it isn’t user-friendly or aesthetically pleasing. It’s a bunch of drop-down menus leading to massive grids of software and advertisements. It seemed cool at one time, and it’s certainly better than the nightmare over on my Xbox One, but it still sucks. I miss the days of cleanliness and UI elegance, of automatic sorting and efficiencies. I miss being able to browse the PlayStation Network and see content for multiple platforms.
It sounds like nitpicking, sure. I get it. But the less user-friendly and curated things are, the messier they get and the easier it becomes for quality assurance to go down the toilet. Just look at the discussions we’re having now about Steam. Valve had to mess around with the Trading Card metrics in an attempt to cut down on software fraud, for chrissakes. It’s embarrassing. Sony’s PS4 motto is "Greatness awaits," but I’m not so sure I even have a handle on what that means. I’m afraid to buy legacy-style re-releases, unless they’re high-profile remakes or remasters, because I don’t know how supported they’ll end up being. There’s too many questions and inconsistencies, and while the successes and money piles up, I doubt I’ll ever have the same vivid memories as before.